This weekend was Armed Forces Day, a time for our country and our communities to come together to show our support for all those who serve in our Forces, from current service personnel to their families, from veterans to cadets.
It was wonderful to see so many people coming together locally to mark the occasion. We saw a great turnout at this year’s Parade in the Park in Longton, a great family event that seems to get bigger and better every year.
The Potteries has a long and proud link to our military. This was the birthplace of Reginald Mitchell, the inventor of the Spitfire. Thousands of families have lost loved ones in the defence of our country, and today we are home to many service families and personnel, as well as hundreds of Air, Sea and Army Cadets.
Anyone with friends or family members who serve will know they don’t do it for recognition. But it is right that we recognise their contribution, their support and, in some cases, their sacrifice.
As you are reading this, our servicemen and women are deployed in more than 40 countries around the world, putting themselves on the line to keep us safe. Whether fighting to defeat Daesh in Syria and Iraq, supporting our NATO allies in Eastern Europe, or defending our own territories in Gibraltar and the Falklands, the men and women of our Armed Forces do extraordinary work, day in and day out.
We owe them a debt of gratitude, but more than that we owe them practical support with the challenges that they face because of that service.
Military life isn’t easy. I’ve spoken to service families who have told me about the struggle to find school places for their kids thanks to the constant movement between bases. I’ve heard about poor quality accommodation and maintenance firms that leave service families without a working boiler for weeks. Visiting the Falklands, I discovered that those serving overseas often have trouble accessing basic services such as banking while deployed due to the lack of adequate internet access.
These may seem like small things compared with what so many of these men and women can be called upon to face, but it’s these inconveniences that can make things unnecessarily difficult for our troops and their families.
We owe it to our Armed Forces to make sure that they and their families are being properly taken care of.
We also have a duty to help our veterans, who may face mental and physical health problems, when they and their families take that first step into civilian life and work.
That’s why I’m so proud to be chair of the Armed Forces Covenant group in Parliament, which works to support and promote the covenant – our country’s collective pledge to support the men and women of our Armed Forces.
Signed by over 1300 businesses as well as charities and local councils, including Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the covenant helps to provide a much-needed support network for those serving and our veterans.
Many of you will be familiar with organisations like Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, who support our forces in all kinds of ways. But we also have great local groups like the Tri-Services and local veterans breakfast clubs which provide support, advice and comradeship to local veterans. Groups such as these do incredible work and deserve our support.
Last year we marked a century of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, this year 100 years since the formation of the RAF, an anniversary that has special resonance for us here in the home of the Spitfire.
But 2018 also marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, a tragedy that we as a country need to unite together to commemorate.
So as we take a day to show our appreciation for our veteran and serving Armed Forces, let us also take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made in the defence of our country.
The brave men and women of our Armed Forces deserve unconditional respect for the difficult job that they do. No one should find themselves disadvantaged for serving their country. That’s why it’s so important that we have the Armed Forces Covenant, and why it must translate into real action and support.